Joseph Opala

Joseph Opala Joseph A. Opala (born August 4, 1950) is the historian who documented the "Gullah Connection," the historical link between the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, and the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Opala's views on Gullah history and culture are based in large part on his research on Bunce Island, the British slave castle that sent thousands of African captives from Sierra Leone to South Carolina and Georgia in the mid- and late 1700s. Opala was the first scholar to argue that Bunce Island has unique importance for African Americans. As a public historian, Opala uses his own original research to create commemorative events, documentary films, museum exhibits, etc. But he also draws extensively on the work of other scholars, especially Lorenzo Dow Turner. Opala has traveled back and forth between Sierra Leone and the Gullah region for almost 25 years, conducting research and looking for meaningful ways to bring Sierra Leoneans and Gullahs back together so that they can explore for themselves the many common elements in their history, language, and culture. Opala's research resulted in a visit by Sierra Leone's President Joseph Saidu Momoh to a Gullah community in South Carolina in 1988, and to three historic homecomings to Sierra Leone -- the Gullah Homecoming (1989), the Moran Family Homecoming (1997), and Priscilla’s Homecoming (2005). Opala worked with the Sierra Leone Government to organize these events, and he helped produce the documentary films that show what happened when Sierra Leoneans and Gullahs came back together on ancestral soil centuries after the Atlantic slave trade tore their families apart. These African American homecomings are chronicled in the documentary videos Family Across the Sea (1991), The Language You Cry In (1998), and Priscilla's Homecoming (in production). They have appeared repeatedly on TV in both the U.S. and Sierra Leone, and received wide acclaim in both countries. These films are also commonly used in university classes in the U.S. and West Africa. On April 27, 2012, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma awarded Opala the Order of the Rokel, Sierra Leone's equivalent of the British knighthood, "in recognition of his pioneering role in documenting the historical link between the Gullah people in the United States of America and Sierra Leone, and his outstanding contribution to preserving Bunce Island.

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Oklahoma City United States
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